Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Of Sambhar and Simplicity


Very recently, I went on a salivation trip. It was 7:30 am and I was reading my morning newspaper when suddenly my nose lead me to this piece of steamy-spicy news from a few pages on. Chennai’s traditional breakfast – idli, sambhar and filter coffee – was the most nutritious breakfast any Indian metro could produce. The survey had studied those hogging, skipping and skimping breakfasts, and the winner was clearly the white powder-puff delights. (No, I was not disappointed. I personally know that Punjab’s Delhi’s breakfast it could never have been. The butter on the parantha would only have made the trophy slip from it's hands). As I devoured the pictures, I marked the coming Saturday as one reserved for execution of the gastronomic temptation that had just made my beaten coffee instantly look dead-beat, and how.  

Now, mine is a family that loves to watch the family-income-called-peanuts get baked in patisserie ovens or tossed in stir fry vegetables, lay peppered with cheese or boil in the soup cauldron – all of that in kitchens other than mine. The end of every month sees us doing two important things: One, woefully go 'Sigh!' looking at the puny amount of savings left after our monthly consumption of it (literally); and two, burp with shameless satiety and start looking forward to another month of trying new eateries around. Since burps speak louder than sighs, we always ignore the latter and welcome the peanuts home to be consumed, in their entirety.     

Mine is also a family that likes to watch its weight, well, most of the times anyway! Mister cycles 25 kms every morning and Missus runs around a toddler 24*7 sans any house help. Hence, what comes dipped in hot chocolate sauce out of the ovens is never eaten with a pinch of guilt, for we are burning it. Today, after learning that Chennai breakfast is the lightest on our coronary arteries, our faith in one of our favourite South Indian restaurants has been reinstated even more. Just drive those 9 kms to a certain roof, under which such healthy aromas and tastes flow freely. Shamelessly, I use the term ‘South Indian’ in that typical semi-literate way in which most of us from the northern side of the country do – that is, very broadly and carrying within its banana leaf folds cuisines from Andhra, Karnataka and Kerala too. 

And I want to talk about one word that comes to mind when I think South Indian Restaurants, and that being Simplicity

Banish thoughts of pretentious 5-star hotels, where dear idli recognises not itself, or the masala of dosa rests uncomfortably on Italian crockery. I talk of those eateries where dinner for two still costs within 500 bucks - generous limitless servings of sambhar, papad and chutney included. The décor is plain, usually with a hint of green but nothing fancy. The table tops are sun-mica sheets and the chairs make no attempt to look antique. Of course there’s air-conditioning, but the walls are mercifully clean of bloated food pictures, or abstract looking art. The menu card does not resemble your medical bill, and the heart beats remain calm. The food is served in classic steel crockery and with matching cutlery and glasses. The tissue papers are pink or yellow and more often than not fail to do their job. The bathrooms will offer you the facility you need, without ivory lining the floors or buttons you know not the use of. The servers make no attempt to sound like they are on a cross-country linguistic run. The cashier, usually a serious looking moustachioed fellow, sits guarding not just the registers but also the marigold-laden incense-smelling deities, who, as if intentionally made so, are always the ones to steal the show with their finery.



















Notice also how, soon as one steps over the ‘Welcome’ mat and into such abodes of Gods and godly foods, all ideas of ‘status’ and ‘class’ are left outside, as one and all sit comfortably on those simple chairs and tables to dig the complex South Indian dishes served so humbly (McDonald's is another such leveller, but a near-fancy one). What pizzas could not manage, uttapam does, as use of forks and knives are put to the winds and hands realize how the word ‘handy’ was born. The carefree environment promotes talking as much as you desire and as loudly as you please. The servers are always smiling, respectful, ready to refill, to clear, to bring in more, to recommend the sweet and finally get the saunf and mishri in a tiny steel petri-dish. And no, not any strata of Delhi minds standing outside on the road of their favourite South Indian Restaurant and waiting out their 45 minutes to grab a table for 5, reservations or no reservations. Now, isn't that healthy thinking and healthy living?

If only health actually translated into wealth in the coffers! Sigh! But then, what of that. My peanuts have arrived into my account. And chances are this month will see us dipping them in sambhar more often than before, and it's going to be finger-licking good.

Burp! Oops, excuse me, please!


78 comments:

  1. Hey Sakshi....have you been to Sarvana bhawan in CP? Its my favorite-est restraunt to have lunch/dinner/snacks if I am in that area. And south Indian filter coffee is a brew I think the Gods created.
    I can never appreciate the CCDs, or the Baristas after having lived in Bangalore for 3 years and having tasted the most awesome idlis, dosas, sambhar and filter coffee.

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    1. Yes, yes, I've been there. The reference to waiting in the queue for 45 minutes came from there, Ghata. ;) Oh filter coffee! I got a truck-load of the powder from Coorg, but it's not the same thing using it in a coffee maker. :P Thank you for reading! :)

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  2. Nice one. I suggest you to try south indian food at Delhi Kannada Sangha at RK puram.

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    1. GOD BLESS YOU for the tip. I will, ASAP, Vinay. Thanks for stopping by! :)

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  3. Ghata beat me to it, Sarvana Bhawan CP, fultoo value for money and taste buds! I can never think of anything more delish and the best part is that does not leave the budget overstretched.

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    1. With you, totally. Fultoo value-for-money and taste buds our dear Sarvana Bhavan in CP. Albeit, after a half-hour of stomach cramps standing in the queue for the tables. Thanks for reading, Ritu! :)

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  4. But many of these vegetarian restaurants are not very cheap at all. On a trip to Delhi, I wanted to have a South Indian Breakfast and went to a restaurant at CP. I found the food non-palatable. But it was hygienic. If you enter the kitchen area of some of the south Indian restaurants in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, you can see how food is prepared. Very poor standards of hygiene. Many restaurant chains in South employ minor children for cleaning utensils.

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    1. Well, you are right, Sibi. In all the places I have been to "down South" the food was so much more inexpensive than what it is here. But, compared to most other cuisines, S-Indian still goes easy on the wallet. With my limited exposure, I will not know about the standards of hygiene of restaurants in TN or Karnataka, or about child labour. (North will have it's share of horror stories too I am sure!) Perhaps, a win-win would be those prices and this hygiene. I hope some restaurateur is listening! :D Thank you for stopping by, Sibi.

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  5. Since you love South Indian Food, drop in to Chennai, I am foodie too and I will take you too some of these simple restaurants which have awesome food.

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    1. Oh Athenas Take, THANK YOU. I can promise you that if I was ever to come that way, I will meet you for a steaming cup of coffee. I wish I could grab the offer right this minute, considering how tempted I am to eat all that! :D

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  6. The stuff that some the Bhavans serve is pretty good... Andhra Bhavan, for instance, is fair on the wallet and the stomach says: 'Another round, please!'

    Nice post...

    Arvind Passey
    www.passey.info

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    1. I am yet to make it to Andhra Bhavan in time (ie before 1pm) on a Sunday afternoon to dig the biryani. I hear it is delicious. Perhaps, next weekend. Thanks for reading, Arvind :D

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  7. I am blessed to live in Bangalore. The fabulous 'tiffin' you get here is to die for. Though I do make some fabulous idli and dosas myself. It is my most favorite breakfast rubbing shoulders with another favorite gobhi ka paratha :).

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    1. Gobhi parantha is a wonderful invention too. I shall drop in to relish your home-made delicacies whenever I come to Bangalore, Rachna. Thanks for reading! :)

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  8. As somebody who has been born, brought up and continue to live in South India (viz, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai), this post resonated so well with me and completely captured my conundrum whenever I have had the opportunity to visit a restaurant in any city north of Hyderabad.

    Like you aptly say, we seemed to be paying more for the decor, ambience, air conditioning, rest rooms, and everything else except for the food that we eat. The cutlery like you mention looks like it is made to be touched very gently and the food itself is nothing to write home about.

    Therefore, my vote goes for South Indian cuisine and restaurants anyday. Albeit I absolutely enjoy my paranthas and panneer butter masala as much as the next person, the fact remains that I would have North Indian cuisine at a South Indian city itself...

    Nice post...

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    1. That I will break those china plates or bang my fork on them the wrong way scares me to death, Jairam. Takes the fun out of the eating, totally.

      Oh well! truth be told "paranthas and panneer butter masala" is what I was born into. And yes, it's in my genes to be the lover of those too. ;)

      Thanks for reading, Jairam!

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  9. I am not going to comment how ell you have written you I am a fan of your writing. What i am want to say is.. I am happy to know about your love for south Indian cuisine..and my sentiments are same as yours. It was like reading my own thoughts here. :)

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    1. Thanks, Namrota. That my thoughts mirror yours is always more welcome than appreciation for how they were written. :)

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  10. 'South Indian' food is a hit among my family for all the reasons mentioned above. It's healthy, it's tasty and you don't have to empty your wallet for a plate of yummy and hygienic dosa or idli for that matter.

    Now that I know that your are a SI food lover, I'd like to invite you for some homemade dosas and idlis at my place. So, when are we meeting? :D

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    1. Hehe! Even though I know how much trouble it would spell for you, I will shamelessly let temptation lead me to your place to partake of those home made dosas, Tanya. :D Thanks for reading! :D(PS - we need to connect on FB!)

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  11. I heard the same on a FM channel it sure didn't inspire me to write any post about it :D I can see the love for food shining thorough the post.

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    1. Oh you who climbs mountains and swims across oceans, you have other inspirations galore for your posts. We lesser mortals rely on our humble newspapers and radios, even as you write your own stories the world over. :D Thanks for reading, Mridula. :)

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  12. Eeeeee...I feel strange when someone praises the food items I eat almost every day :P (Keralite)

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    1. Just like I would feel if you write an ode to Rajma-Chawal, Anil. :P Thanks for reading!

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  13. Well, first some blowing my own trumpet, I have mastered the art of making idli and dosa. Yes, from scratch. Honestly I don't go to fancy restaurants as the portions are small, prices are high and tip makes a dent on my pocket. So, very satisfied eating at places where all comes in steel plates with unlimited quantity.

    Also, I kinda savored your post. :)

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    1. Please send some culinary gyan my way too. My pockets are totally dented. S-Indian happens to be the cheaper of the many cuisines around so it's not as bad. I love the homely feel these places offer. And by the way, LOVE the 'I kinda savored your post' bit! :D Thank you, Saru!

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  14. I like South Indian food. I like Paranthropus with butter also. Tasty South India dishes like Dosa, Vada, Uttapam etc also have saturated fat. Fat brings taste, but brings bad health also.

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    1. Which is true, Vada itself is quite filling, and I'm guessing the fried part makes it so. Oh well, it's better than 'Paranthropus' I'm assuming! :) Thanks for reading, Abhijit!

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  15. It is not merely because I am South Indian that I like South Indian food or because I am Indian that I like Indian food. There are two important reasons why I do. 1.The cook in the restaurant makes the taste in the dish. I do not have to fiddle around with salt and pepper shakers or sauces and reduce what could be a fine dish into an inedible mess. 2.Hands! Never yet mastered the cutlery. Put me in front of all those implements and I feel too much like I am back in my Engineering workshop gawking at implements that I neither know the use of nor care to know :)

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    1. Loved reason 1. and can understand reason 2. what with different spoons for different things and knives and forks too. I have a cutlery set from UK, almost a collector's item because of it's rare design (it's nearly 40 years old!), which has so many pieces to it that it lies asleep in my box bed - neither do I have the table size I need to display them, nor the crowd which would want to go through the hassle. Our Rajma-chawal taste better too when had with the hands. :) Thanks for reading, Suresh!

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  16. Being a person who grew up eating South Indian food all my life,its the Northie food that makes me drool!! :D But nonetheless,South Indian foods are absolute yum :)

    PS: You should make a trip down to Chennai soon.. Would love to meet you and also introduce to some lip smacking South Indian delicacies! :)

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    1. I will surely meet you one day, and enjoy those dishes with you. They will taste even yummier with such gorgeous company, Jaseema. ;)

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  17. Ha ha ha Sakshi, do drop in someday with prior information and I promise to serve you garam garam sambhar mein doobi Idlies...:-) Mostly on weekends I do make it a point to make either Idly or Dosa with Sambhar and chutney, wishing some amount of veggies to get into the tiny bellies. I'm also thankful that you didn't address my tribe as the most generously used 'Madrasi'. :-)

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    1. How lovely, Rekha. Ab toh aana pareyga. :) So some weekend it will be, and phone call shall precede my presence. :D Oh, I would not use 'Madrasi' fearing one may call me 'Panju', which sounds sillier. :P Thanks for reading, Rekha.

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  18. The home-made paranthas are way better than those served anywhere outside. You should surely try the ones made at my place.

    I know what would follow next "GOD BLESS ME FOR MY SUGGESTION"

    but trust me, you'll forget what "finger lickin good" meant to you earlier

    *laughing*

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    1. I know paranthas. I make them on my own, so I usually do not order them in restaurants. (except Chandni Chowk Gali ;) Thank you for the invite, but for paranthas, I can equally invite you back and assure you you too will forget what "finger licking good' is all about, Arish! Hehe. Thanks for reading! :)

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    2. *shocked*
      Is there any genre you haven't tried yet?? :p

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  19. i can survive on idli and dosa, and that coconut chutney is the best thing human beings have invented after telephone! but 500 for two sounds a bit expensive. check out other south indian restaurants in Delhi, i am sure, you will find a better deal :D.

    hey, loved your post and thank god you have uninstalled that google plus comment thingy.

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    1. Well, 500 is tops. And only when you do a course meal. Haha, yes, there are some offering better deals but I have to make sure the ones we go to have a clean loo my toddler can use. :P

      THANK GOD Im off Google+. SO good to see you around. And thanks for liking the post, Debajyoti. :)

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  20. Seems like the sambhar has to find refuge in other cities, as it is losing ground in chennai to the Thalapakattu biriyani revolution. Every street in chennai has a biriyani shop and this is making the average chennaiite bigger than deepika's cousins in chennai express

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    1. Hahaha. I am yet to watch Chennai Express but I think I get an idea. :D Now what is this 'Thalapakattu Biryani'? Hm. Noted in my to-eat list. let's see where I can grab it! Thanks for pointing it to me, Jayan!

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  21. Ahh! The Saravana Bhavan! I literally survived on their "Mini Tiffins" from the office canteen for a long time!

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    1. :D Rajrupa, I think I took you on a culinary nostalgia trip. :)

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  22. Find out the nearest Dosa Plaza restaurant and try a few varieties of Dosas (they have more than 50 varieties). Even a South Indian (me) loved the creative dosas (and chutneys) they make. Try Mysore Masala Dosa first - My favorite.

    Also, try sambhar idly/mini-idly (idly soaked in sambhar), sambhar vada, curd vada, Onion Oothappam (thicker form of dosa) in South Indian restaurants. I just love all of them!

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    1. I have tried many many versions of Dosas, including very Punjabi-ised version which I did not like so much. Mysore Masala is what I usually dig too, Raj. The other dishes you mention have been consumed and enjoyed! :D Thanks for reading!

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  23. I love SI food but not the Haldiram variety. Having lived in Bangalore I look for authentic taste. But nothing can beat home made dosa, idli and curd rice, a Tamilian cook used to make for us. Where is this place Simplicity Sakshi?

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    1. Simplicity is not the name of a place. It's the word that comes to my mind every time I think of ANY S-Indian joint in Delhi, Alka. No, not the Haldiram variety, certainly! :)

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  24. Glad that you liked Idli, Sambhar and the vada combo :) I wish you come down to Chennai and try the same combo in a place called Murugan Idli Shop . Am sure you can experience the next level of simple yet amazing taste.

    Welcome to Chennai :)

    Link : http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/murugan-and-the-idli-factory/article1587712.ece

    http://www.muruganidlishop.com/

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    1. Thanks for the link, Jeyan. And thank you for stopping by. I guess the 'sambhar' in the title drew all the noses here! :D

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  25. Lovely post to a die-hard Dosa lover ! I live in Bangalore and the Dosas here are very different than the ones you get in Chennai. I even think they merit a different name !
    Filter coffee is always lovely and you could try to get the authentic filter coffee steel vessel and rustle up some for yourself, whenever you feel like :)

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    1. You know, I did get a carton of filter coffee from Coorg. But the coffee machine is no good with it. I have been trying to lay my hands of the coffee steel vessel you speak about. I hope I get one soon. Chances are, I'll go over-board with my coffee intake if I have one at my disposal. :P Thanks, themoonstone! :)

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  26. Slurp !!! Now I will have to go and dig in some of those.. :P But, what an apt description of the typical South Indian restaurant.. Simplicity and Taste at its best..

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    1. You can blame me for spreading the slurps, Jyotsna. ;) And thanks for the "apt description". No one else seems to have noticed it, so carried away are they with the sluprs. :P

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  27. You've put the post in a very nice way. Nice read. You must try the authentic dishes down south.

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  28. One thing which I do not like about these eateries in Chennai is the attitude of the waiters towards customers. Often they behave as if they are doing us a favor by serving us the food. Case in point is Sarvana Bhavan and Murugan Idli. Some more politeness will be awesome.

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    1. I am yet to hit Chennai's shores. Perhaps will be be able to see that once I visit. Thank you for reading, Puru! You must try Delhi then. It's not as bad as the newspaper headlines make you believe! :)

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  29. I have made the dreadful mistake of reading this during lunch time! With a hungry belly and while sitting at my dining table with standard North Indian fare staring at me. If I could be granted one wish, I would swap all of this with something else!
    Next time, we have to do our talk fest at a South Indian joint!

    This was a wonderful read. Witty, real and delicious!

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    1. Dreadful mistake indeed, Rickie! Yes, S-Indian joint for a talk fest sounds delicious! Thanks for the "witty, real and delicious". :D

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  30. Well said, Sakshi.

    South Indian food has its simplicity yet is nutritious. My better half runs marathons and prefers to indulge in idlis/sambhar after his run cause the amount of protein it has...beats my dal makhani or mattur paneer.

    Love the south indian restaurants...they still serve in stainless steel dishes and feels so much at home :)

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    1. Thank you for reading, Ruchira. Happy you agree! :)

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  31. Along with great health idli sambhar brought up a sumptuous post!Hail Saravana bhawan CP!!

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    1. Hey, thanks, Ilakshee. (That's a beautiful name by the way!) You know, Sarvana Bhavan stole the show because everyone spoke about it. I was actually talking about Sagar Ratna in Outer Circle, CP. Oh well, Sarvana is no less, actually! :D

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  32. Oh boy, now all I want is some fluffy idlis to dip into piping hot sambar!!!

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    1. :D I hope you get done. And I hope you don't curse me for getting those taste buds all excited if you don't ! Thanks for reading, beingFab.

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  33. I dont miss idlis as am a south Indian and have them often in Bnglr but I used to miss them when I was in GGN. have u ever been to Naivedyam. Its slightly pricey but was our hang out during my short tenure at gurgaon with people always waiting in queues. This sagar ratna also looks like a grt place
    tempting post :)

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    1. Oh Ashan, with that 'Naivedyam' in the comment you have got me all hungry. Cannot wait to have some Chettinad chicken ASAP. :) Sagar Ratna is much more limited in stock compared to Naivedyam. But both are quite slurrpy. Thanks for being here! :D

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  34. Savoury post.........just like idli-sambhar. Loved it.

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  35. I'm glad to say that we make most of this at home, but it's nice to also indulge in these restaurants that will serve you five different types of chutneys!!

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    1. Roshni, with my kind of culinary skills, my kitchen will perhaps never see me making dosas and idlis. :P I DEPENDENT on these restaurants. :D

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  36. O, I love South Indian Food. You know there was a restaurant called 'Kokum'. It used to serve South-Indian cuisine including Goan, Manglorean, Chettinad & Keralite. We used to love it and would often frequent because surprisingly the food would not feel too heavy. You know how we eat and eat and eat, and later repent. But not here. And my favourite part was their digestive tea at the end. I don't know why they shut down :-(

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    1. Well, the only Kokum I have come across is a delicious cold drink by the name 'Kokum Soda' which you get in 'Dilli Haat' ka Maharashtra stall. I guess it must have closed down then. I never repent even after I eat and eat and eat. :P Thanks for reading, Reema! :)

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  37. Nice post, I bookmark your blog because I found very good information on your blog, Thanks for sharing more information.I really like it.
    Restaurants in Noida

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